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MavKikiNYC
03-31-2004, 07:07 AM
Houston Finds Conditional Love From Fans
By CHRIS BROUSSARD

Published: March 31, 2004


REENBURGH, N.Y., March 30 For a brief moment Tuesday, Allan Houston displayed the type of cockiness that might silence some of the fans questioning the severity of a knee injury that has sidelined him for the Knicks' playoff race.
Asked after practice if he had been able to maintain his shooting touch, Houston laughed and said:
"My shot ain't going nowhere. That's one thing I know for sure."

That's the audacity, the brashness, the bad English that any number of New Yorkers might welcome from Houston, the clean-cut star with a résumé of stellar production. More quotations like that might boost Houston's street credibility, a factor that has more value than one might think at Madison Square Garden. Houston's $100 million contract is certainly a factor in the fans' skeptical view of him, but on a yearly basis, he is making only a few million dollars more than his true market value. So even if Houston had, say, a $70 million contract, the Knicks would still be whole universes from having room beneath the salary cap.

There is more than money behind Houston's fickle status in the eyes of fans. Knicks followers might want a guy like Houston to date their daughter or their niece, but on the court they want someone with a rebellious streak. How else to explain why Houston was booed at the Garden on March 3 in just his second game back from the injured list, yet Latrell Sprewell, back in town as an opponent, received unconditional adoration while spewing curses at the Knicks' owner and bench in December? Is there any doubt that the Garden would go bananas if Rasheed Wallace or Allen Iverson showed up in a Knicks uniform?

Instead, Houston, family man, gospel hip-hop producer, role model, gets love only when he drops 35 points or more in a come-from-behind victory. Let him miss three shots in a row and the boos rain down. There are many preconceived notions about Houston, with Exhibit A being that he is soft, a view that has led to suspicions about his current knee injury. "They just don't know," Houston said, referring to his critics. "If they really knew what it felt like, they wouldn't say that. If they knew what I've played through, they wouldn't question it. They haven't tried to play with what I have for years and had to perform and do what I do."

Going into this season, Houston had missed only 19 games over the first 10 years of his N.B.A. career, including only 10 games in his first 7 seasons with the Knicks. Those figures don't jibe with Houston's soft image. Moreover, it is not as if he played all of those seasons with a smile on his face. "Just because I didn't miss many games doesn't mean I was healthy," Houston said.

The Knicks might have done Houston a disservice by calling this latest injury a bruised left quadriceps. Houston's kneecap is what is bothering him, but he figures the team called it a quad injury to avoid causing more concern about the season-long knee problems that have caused him to miss 25 games in all. "If it was a bruised quad I would've been playing three days later," Houston said. "I played through a bruised quad last year for half the year." Houston said that the most trying part of his ordeal is that his durability failed him at a crucial moment.
"It's frustrating because we're finally making a run for the playoffs and we've got a group of guys that we can make something happen with," he said. "But the most frustrating thing for me is watching and seeing ways that I could help."

This is poor timing indeed. Now that Tim Thomas has made fans forget about Keith Van Horn, one can only imagine what Stephon Marbury, Houston and Thomas, plus a rugged, if nonglamorous, frontcourt and a deep bench could do in the Eastern Conference. Houston's outside shooting would make slashers like Marbury and Thomas even more effective, as there are few shooting guards who would better complement Marbury than Houston. Houston's ability to be a deadeye spot-up shooter would be perfect for the new point guard.

Except for his rookie season in Detroit, where Isiah Thomas was actually on his last legs, Houston has never played with a great driver and passer like Marbury. Now that he has one, he can't get on the court. Houston could go on the injured list on Friday to make room on the active roster for Dikembe Mutombo, and Houston has not ruled out missing the playoffs should the Knicks qualify. "I'm not going to come back because of pressure," Houston said. "I'm going to come back when I know that I'm healthy. If I feel like I am right now, nah, I wouldn't play in the playoffs. If you can't play, you can't play."

Houston, who will turn 33 on April 20, does not fear that any long-term damage has been done to his career. "There's no doubt in my mind that I'll be back where I want to be and where the fans want me to be and where this team wants me to be," Houston said. "It's just a matter of when."